Marvel's Unseen Superheroes

Like many moviegoers, I eagerly anticipated the release of Marvel Enterprises' (NYSE: MVL  ) Spider Man 2 this past summer. I thought the movie was terrific. Being a screenwriter myself, I pay particular attention to why the movie worked so well. It's because it told a great story. Stories are what movies are all about. Think about the best ones you've seen; they'll all have a great story behind them.

Like a movie, a company's story should be simple, clear, and focused on a singular goal (in this case, enhancing shareholder value). Just as Batman's goal is to round up the Joker, a company's goal is to round up cash and put it to good use. A company needs great characters to tell its story, and those characters are its management. In Marvel's case, management is the real superhero behind the company's story.

Until recently, Marvel was akin to Superman beset with a kryptonite kidney stone. It was loaded with debt and seemed incapable of leveraging its 4,700 comic book characters into revenue. However, the company turned itself around and now fully exploits its brand, as its most recent quarterly results demonstrate.

Now, unlike entertainment behemoths Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA  ) , Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , and Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS  ) , whose assets and revenue streams are broadly diversified, Marvel's focus is much narrower. It generates cash by licensing its characters for films, TV, games, and toys. But that's not enough in and of itself. The movies and television shows must generate big revenue for the studios if Marvel wants them to license more characters. Movies as successful as the Spider Man and X-Men series give Marvel leverage to demand higher fees.

So how does one guarantee a movie's success? Well, it's impossible to guarantee anything in Hollywood. But the deck can be stacked by having a great script and a development team to assist the writer and director in making the story the best it can be. At Marvel Studios, those tasks fall to Avi Arad, Ari Arad, and Kevin Feige. Based on the movies we've seen so far, these guys know how to put a winning package together.

Even better, the average investor can stay apace with the goings-on of these unseen superheroes. At fan sites such as Harry Knowles' legendary Ain't It Cool site, insiders post script and movie reviews in advance of their release. These fans are the base Marvel really wants to hit. If they diss Marvel's projects, then Marvel has a problem. For now, however, Marvel's Marvelous Management Men have the situation well in hand, and that's good news for shareholders.

Both Marvel and Time Warner areMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations. Learn more by signing up today, risk-free for six months.

Fool contributor Lawrence Meyers owns shares of Marvel, and at night he solves crime.


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